THE MORNING SKATE — Figuring Out What Ails Kyle Okposo, Again

Kevin Schultz

Last year, the Islanders went through the motions with a couple of players early on. Blake Comeau was one, and was waived after 16 games, zero points and a -11 rating. For those concerned, the Islanders shouldn’t miss him as he is off to a similarly putrid start this season in Calgary (0-1-1, -5 in 8 games). Another player who had trouble getting out of the gate was Kyle Okposo, who was benched early on in a coach’s effort to send a message.

Here’s what Katie Strang wrote last October:

It seems that New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano is sending a message to his team that no player is safe.

Capuano decided to sit assistant captain Kyle Okposo for the third straight game and was cryptic in answering why.

When asked whether he was reluctant to put Okposo back in the lineup because the team has played well the past two games, or whether his benching had to do with something else, Capuano responded: “It’s a little bit of both.”

“We had a real good chat this morning. Kyle knows exactly what the plan is moving forward,”

This year, it seems to be more of the same for Okposo, who was demoted from the first line to the second last week and has yet to really find an offensive spark (1-3-4, -5 in 11 games). Meanwhile, his first line teammates Matt Moulson (4-6-10, -1 in 11) and John Tavares (6-7-13, -2 in 11) are up to their usual tricks.

This year, the coach is taking a different approach with his underachieving winger. Writes Arthur Staple in Newsday this morning:

Capuano told Newsday he has no plans to bench Okposo.

“Last year was different. I saw a guy who was going through the motions a little bit,” Capuano said. “Now I see a guy who’s fighting the puck, no question. But he’s working hard.”

Okposo responded to the benching last November, scoring two goals in his second game back. He closed last season with nine goals in nine games, leading to thoughts that this season’s start would be different.

So what’s the deal with Okposo?

Clearly, he’s a slow starter. The four points in 11 games, an average of .36 points per game, is a good bit below his career average (including these 11 games) of .585 points per game. He’s a better player overall than he has been so far this year.

Could it be blamed on Okposo not playing anywhere over the lockout? Maybe. But this slow start isn’t an isolated incident and is marginally better than last season, so it’s hard to point at his lack of a lockout club and place blame there.

But maybe, it’s a bit of an illusion that occurs when the Islanders close well down the stretch, as they have done twice in the last couple seasons. As Staple noted, Okposo closed well with a nine goals in the final nine games. What he didn’t note is that the Islanders were out of contention at that point.

This also might be the best we’re going to see out of Okposo. Not this 11 game stretch mind you but rather a player who has hot streaks, has cold streaks and, when all is said and done, is a 40-50 point player each season. That’s what Okposo has been for the Islanders for the three full seasons he has played on Long Island (I’m throwing out 2010-11 when he missed half a year to injury) and maybe that’s what he’ll continue to be.

To expect Okposo to be scoring in bunches as a first line winger, at this point, seems like a role that he is clearly ill-fitted for. He was never supposed to be a pure scorer like Tavares, more of a crash and bang player who goes to the net and plays well along the boards. But the effort and lack of tough offensive play, which has been hit and miss, and his inability to click again with Nielsen and Grabner is certainly something to be worried about.

 

CHECKING IN WITH NINO

There’s a feature on Nino Niederreiter in Swiss media that is a decent read, when you jam it through Google Translate. It was written over the weekend and talks about life in the AHL, the snowstorm and trade demands (although it doesn’t add anything new on the latter). Europe: where they also practice normal journalistic styles like features on specific players that touch on many subjects!

 

 

THIS IS A THING THAT HAPPENED

In case you missed it, on Saturday night someone was wearing a horse mask behind the Islanders’ bench. At least we hope it was a mask.